INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- No. 21 Flavia Pennetta won the biggest title of her 14-year career on Sunday, defeating an ailing Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-1 in the final of the BNP Paribas Open.
Pennetta, who turned 32 last month, won her first Premier Mandatory title. The Italian will rise to No. 12 on Monday, only two spots shy of her career high, set in August 2009 when she became the first woman from her country to crack the top 10. This was her first title since 2010, a string of 76 tournaments, and the 10th of her career.
"After so many years and so much work, this is the moment I've always been waiting for," Pennetta said. "And it's coming when you don't expect it, because in the beginning of the week I never expected to be the champion or to be in the final or semifinal."
The title punctuates an impressive resurgence from Pennetta. A wrist injury that required surgery in 2012 forced her off the tour for six months and she sank to No. 166 last July. Pennetta revealed that it was at this very tournament last year (when she lost to Francesca Schiavone in the first round) that she began to seriously consider retirement. She came “very close,” she says, to calling it quits, but a fourth-round showing at Wimbledon boosted her confidence. Two months later, she made the U.S. Open semifinals for her best result at a Grand Slam tournament, and followed that up with a quarterfinal appearance at the Australian Open this year.
"I mean, it's incredible," Pennetta said, when recounting her journey over the last 12 months. "Something amazing. Because I perfectly remember after the match [in Indian Wells] with Francesca last year, the day after I was in the garden running and talking with my physio, almost crying because the feeling and everything was so bad. And now, after one year, we have the trophy. He is happy because we work so much. Without him, without my coach, my family, maybe I was not here. I mean, I quit."
Pennetta eliminated the top seed, Li Na, in the semifinals and the second seed, Radwanska in the final. Italians are typically known for their clay-court prowess, but Pennetta has thrived on hard courts. Twelve of her 13 wins over top-five players have come on hard courts, as have her best Slam results.
"This is one of the best tournaments in the world. It's mine today," she said.
Still in a daze an hour after the win, Pennetta said she needed some time to process it all.
"Right now, I'm too calm," she said with a laugh. "I'm supposed to be more [excited]. I call my dad, and he couldn't breathe. And I tell him, 'Papa, respirare,' breathe."
The third-ranked Radwanska, like Pennetta, was seeking to win the Indian Wells title for the first time. The 25-year-old Pole also lost to Pennetta in her last tournament, the Dubai Championships.
After the players split the first four games of the match, Pennetta broke twice to begin pulling away. Radwanska received treatment on her left knee after winning the first game of the second set. She called for the trainer twice more, and with her movement compromised, Radwanska lost the final six games of the match.
Radwanska hit 18 unforced errors in the first set and finished with 29, far too many for a player whose game is built on control. With Radwanska unable to play with the pinpoint precision that earned her a very good win over Simona Halep in the semifinals, Pennetta took control early with her solid all-court game. As Radwanska struggled, Pennetta turned the screws. She offered no mercy to her injured opponent, hitting drop shots and lobbing her with ease.
Radwanska was uncharacteristically emotional after the match.
"I'm so sorry I couldn't run as much as I could," she told the crowd through tears. Later, she said: "It's just the worst thing for a player, not giving 100 percent [because of injury], especially in the final of the big event. Just bad luck."
Her disappointment was understandable. This was another opportunity lost for Radwanska, who didn't have to face the game's biggest hitters these last two weeks and was the favorite in the final.
Radwanska has blamed her recent history of falling short in winnable matches -- last year's Wimbledon semifinal against Sabine Lisicki and this year's Australian Open semifinal against Dominika Cibulkova stand out -- on getting bogged with extended three-set matches early in the tournament. Radwanska relies heavily on her retrieving skills, and the effort required to win that way takes a toll. She played only one three-set match at Indian Wells, though, and said she was feeling fresh before the knee pain, which she first experienced at practice earlier this week, flared up.
"I tried everything to push myself to play 100 percent," Radwanska said. "Unfortunately, it was too much pain. I tried because this is the final, and I thought maybe in one game it was going to be better and I would just keep going. But that didn't really happen." This post has been updated.